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August 11, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Mariners were competitive, but lost because of same old habits

Listening to Eric Wedge after last night’s 6-5 loss to the Angels, it was hard not to disagree with him. Yes, his Mariners were competitive, since the game was tied in the bottom of the ninth. If you disagree with that statement, I don’t know what to tell you. Any tied game in the ninth is competitive.
But no, I’m not giving the M’s a free pass. This game should not have been competitive. It should have been over in the third inning.
And that, my friends, brings us to the crux of this 2012 squad. Remember back when the M’s had won three in a row to start their seven-game win streak against the Royals? I went out on a bit of a limb with some of you to try to explain why I was not satisfied with the fact the M’s were jumping on sub-standard pitching early and then coasting the rest of the way.
Yeah, that’s not the formula for sustained success.
Not against teams that show up and that have bullpens that can pitch their way out of a wet paper bag.
The Mariners changed things up a bit their final game versus the Royals and in their series sweep of a last-place Blue Jays team with an ownership content to perpetually rebuild. The Mariners, in those final four games of the seven-game win streak, played bad teams but were at least able to keep adding on runs throughout the contests.
During this road trip, playing winning teams, the M’s either start strong and finish poor, or tack on runs when it’s meaningless. The same old formula that had them losing prior to the All-Star Break and their Royals-laden schedule. Last night, they scored five runs in the third on two long balls against a guy who yields home runs more than any pitcher in baseball, then had just two hits the rest of the game.
Against good teams, you will lose almost every time when you manage two hits from the third inning on. The M’s somehow beat the Tampa Bay Rays twice with that formula. Now, after this past week, you can see what kind of a fluke that was.
So, here we are. A young team feeling its way. Learning its way. Wedge said after the game that his squad is close. And yeah, I can see that. The M’s should have held that 7-2 lead in Baltimore and the 5-0 lead last night. Do that, they’d be 3-4 on this trip instead of 1-6 and we’d be talking about how they’re “surviving” a test.
Except they aren’t. They are losing. Because they are not ready to win. This squad was “learning how to win” in 2009 and again in 2010 and 2011 and now in 2012. And it will keep learning until the Mariners reinforce their ranks with guys who actually know how to win, have played on winning teams as more than just hangers-on and can still produce enough on the field to justify their high cost. In other words: guys who cost money.
Keep throwing out bargain-bin players, you’ll get bargain-bin results. I’m not going to do this team’s dirty work and describe this as “the right way” to rebuild, when clearly, there are teams like the Angels that are rebuilding quicker and contending at the same time. The Mariners way is the cheap way to rebuild. Disagree? Dude, look at the scoreboard and stop flapping your gums. The M’s have some young prospects like Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders and yes, Dustin Ackley. Seager was a non-factor last night, Saunders messed up big-time on the bases and Ackley hit a home run but has been terrible this season.
Not one of them is as promising as Mike Trout of the Angels, who drove in five runs tonight, two of them on a flyball out. That alone is a warning sign. No team should score twice by tagging up on the same flyball.

What do to next? Stop accepting mediocrity. No, that won’t change anything. But it’s mind-blowing to keep reading the same stuff from folks who insist this is the “right way” to rebuild, but who now don’t use the Milwaukee Brewers as their prime example of what “the right way” means. Why not? Well, because the Brewers are no longer the model for “perpetual contention” everybody once cited them to be. They made the playoffs as a wild-card in 2008 by renting C.C. Sabathia for two-thirds of a season and finally won a division title in 2011. Now, they’re an also-ran this year — with Prince Fielder having gone to the contending Tigers — and had to sell off Zack Grienke in the process.
So, if the Mariners are striving to be the Brewers, what does that mean? That they will win one division title in a decade? Seriously? That’s what these 90-to-100-loss seasons have been about? Some will now pretend they never cited Milwaukee as the model. They’ll now say Pittsburgh is the choice. Hate to tell you, but Seattle is hardly Milwaukee or Pittsburgh. Seattle is a bigger market with a franchise that could be worth a billion dollars in another year or two.
Wake up, Seattle.
You don’t have to settle for mediocrity. Your team’s ownership sure isn’t. They are going to be raking in the cash if they ever decide to sell this gold mine of a team whose worth was largely funded by you, the taxpayers, agreeing to pay for the bulk of Safeco Field. Oh wait, you didnt agree to do that? Sorry then, you got the proverbial royal shaft. So, why are you now bending over backwards to accept this so-called rebuilding strategy when anybody with a two eyes, a calculator and a thought process that does more than parrot a party line should know darned well the Mariners can afford to do more?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s a Northwest thing. I’m not from the Northwest, so perhaps I don’t understand the subtleties. Teach me.
But what I’m not going to do, in the interim, is blame a guy like 33-year-old career journeyman Josh Kinney for last night’s loss. Kinney is the kind of guy, who, you smack youself upside the head in amazement at the fact he got through the eighth inning as well as he did, let alone attempted the ninth. Find yourself another coward to bash Kinney. I won’t do it.
The Mariners didn’t have Tom Wilhelmsen last night because his wife was about to give birth to the couple’s first child. They didn’t have Carter Capps or Stephen Pryor to pitch the ninth because Eric Wedge wasn’t dumb enough to put a Class AA or AAA pitcher into a game-saving situation when those said pitchers are still staring in amazement at how big MLB stadiums actually are.
Give me a break.
Just because a team calls up some stud who can purportedly throw 100 mph doesn’t mean he’s ready to work the ninth. Just because that’s the best the Mariners can offer up right now doesn’t mean Wedge should be using them. To me, for last night’s game, Kinney a second inning did not surprise.
You can feel free to disagree. Throw all of your previous, winning experience at me.
For me, I’ll just stick to what I truly believe.
This is a 90-loss-plus team that is going to lose that many games regardless of what Wedge does in-game. That the Mariners need to spend more money and acquire better players so that Wedge isn’t forced to use journeymen pitchers and AA guys in situations where the game is on the line.
That you have to know your market. If your division opponents are spending $120 million-plus and you are fielding a team worth half that much and claim you are trying to win, you’re either somebody who loves to face really bad odds, a little dense, or else you believe your fanbase lacks said intelligence to know the difference. Regardless, I don’t care. Look at the scoreboard, folks. The results are there in front of you.
The good news is, this won’t last forever. The Mariners are in for a serious financial windfall in a couple of years. The bad news is, they are going to put you and their players through more of this losing until they are ready to start winning again.
MLB is an unfair sport. It is all about spending to win. There will be the odd exceptions and the Tampa Bay Rays will keep that myth alive and dare teams to duplicate them. None will, largely because nobody will be willing to lose dramatically for a decade to build the needed draft pieces.
And yet, thanks to silly “analysts” who perpetuate it for the masses without really understanding it, the myth will prevail. Once again, in case it didn’t sink in: the Mariners are not the Brewers, the Pirates, the Rays, or the A’s. They don’t have to play poor man’s Moneyball while the franchise gets wealthier off a tax-funded stadium. And if the M’s do try to start spending more next winter under the guise that they are now “ready” to do it, it will prompt the question of “Why now?” Which young core of players took that quantum leap forward in 2012 that prompted the additional spending this time around, as opposed to last winter, or two years ago? Who formed that game-changing group of difference-makers now?
Start asking yourself these questions and you’ll wonder whether this was really all about waiting for a core to emerge, or merely for pricey contracts to run out. But at least you’ll be asking better questions.
Good luck. Wake me up when the M’s are willing to try to win again.

Comments | Topics: Dustin Ackley


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